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Introduction to Special Needs Estate Planning
Special Needs Estate Planning focuses on the need to provide for the special needs of our loved ones with disabilities when we are no longer there to organize and advocate on their behalf. It is essential that we start planning now for the coordination of the legal, financial, and care components that will provide for the maintenance of the quality of life and dignity of the beneficiary of the plan.
Its all about maximizing opportunities and minimizing risks.The four strategic steps are:
PLANNING - DRAFTING - FUNDING - ADMINISTRATION
Planning - It is important to carefully consider all the factors that impact the individual situation. It is critical to take the time to design a complete plan that takes into account the beneficiary's unique circumstances, and that fully explores all the options available to address his/her special needs. This advance planning could include a professional financial assessment, a public benefits profile, a distribution plan, and the exploring of housing options.
Planning the future of a child or adult with a disability is an enormous challenge. It requires specialized planning and where possible it is wise to incorporate the help of professionals such as financial planners or accountants, public benefits technicians, care coordinators, and yes, attorneys who specialize in this area. Its investing in drawing up the plans for the house before we start building. Remember the old adage, pay a little now (prevention), or pay a lot later (cure).
Drafting - Finding a competent attorney to put together the right documents. This can be difficult, as many are entering the field, but are not familiar with trust law, and public benefit or disability issues.
Funding - A great plan that is has no funds available is useless. It is important to determine accurately the financial need balanced against current resources. Initiating the right strategies now can help to accumulate and preserve funds over the grantor's lifetime.
Administration - This is arguably the most critical step as its 90% of the plan. This covers the execution of the plan. The key to successful administration is the distribution plan set out in the Special Needs Trust. The distribution plan is critical to getting the right people in place with the necessary funds to execute the care plan when you are no longer around to oversee caregivers and hold them accountable.
Another perspective on Special Needs Estate Planning is likening it to the proverbial three legged stool.
PEOPLE - PAPER - MONEY
People - Beneficiary, grantor, trustee, attorney, financial planner, health care providers
Paper - Special Needs Trust, Will, Letter of Intent, Power of Attorney, Medical Directives
Money - Savings, Life Insurance, Gifts from relatives, Retirement Benefits
The right people and the right paper can preserve, enhance and leverage the money. The right paper can preserve both.
None of the individual steps alone, will usually be enough, and some of these steps must be taken simultaneously. It may seem impossibly complicated now, but every journey starts with first steps.
History and current statistics indicate we are chronic procrastinators, so it shouldn't be too long before we at the very least have the Basic Plan in place with signed, effective documents.
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The above information is provided to educate in a general way and is not intended to provide specific legal or professional advice.